Nothing in My 30 Years of Reporting Wars Compares with the Present Propaganda Dressed as Journalism

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), July 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

Nothing in My 30 Years of Reporting Wars Compares with the Present Propaganda Dressed as Journalism


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


On 17 June, the Guardian published a letter by Ben Bradshaw MP, a new Labour bomber. "In one radio discussion I did with [Pilger]," he wrote, "he even suggested the refugees were inventing stories of massacres." He demanded my apology. I took the trouble to get a tape of Scott Chisholm's programme on Talk Radio, on which Bradshaw and I appeared. What I actually said was that refugees "often tell the truth, but this is sometimes difficult to verify" - the opposite of what Bradshaw wrote.

Bradshaw's smooth transition from an incomplete career at the BBC to obedient Blairite MP was reflected not only in his distortion of what I said, but in his indignation. "Why," he said to me, "are you criticising America and Britain . . . your own countries [sic] . . . as the baddies?" Not having the nationality of either of the countries he nominated, I am left unsure of my assigned place in the goodies and baddies game; I should be told. Geoffrey Hoon, the new Foreign Office minister, is another who clearly believes he can make up anything to justify Britain's support for violence and oppression in many parts of the world. In another letter in the Guardian, Hoon wrote that my "claim that Nato slaughtered 10,000 innocent people is make-believe". But I made no such claim; I wrote that Nato had killed or maimed 10,000. That is the sum of the generally accepted, if conservative, figure of 1,200 civilian deaths and more than 8,000 wounded, most of them seriously. Add to this an unknown number of Yugoslav army casualties, mostly young conscripts.

Together with the ethnic Albanian dead, whose numbers are still in question, they are the victims of two distinct campaigns of terror: that of Slobodan Milosevic's murderous special units and that of Nato's cowboy pilots, whose cluster bombs, hi-tech versions of nail bombs, are designed for the destruction of human beings. It requires a certain contortion of intellect and morality to condone one set of atrocities as "blunders" while humanising one group of victims and dehumanising another. This is Sheaism, a new word for the OED. Hoon wrote that it was "just plain sick" to suggest that Nato provoked a pattern of Serb atrocities. From 24 March, the escalation of both atrocities and the flood of refugees is clear in reports to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The bombing, reported investigators of the International Strategic Studies Association, "contributed heavily, perhaps overwhelmingly".

Hoon's letter was in response to a column I wrote about Burma, in which I pointed out that Labour had reneged on its pledge to impose legal sanctions on investment that underwrote the modern-day slavers in power in Rangoon. As a result, the British multinational Premier Oil has continued to do deals worth hundreds of millions in hard currency with the Burmese generals, allowing them to re-equip one of the biggest armies in the world, the tool of their oppression. …

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